It goes by many names. Some call it the “1-2-3-4 exercise”, some call it “crawl ups” some may just call it noodling. Whatever you decide to call it, however, this exercise is extremely powerful, and often overlooked.
I start out all of my students with this exercise (I call it the 1-2-3-4 in case you were wondering).
The guitar is a tough instrument to even start making pleasant sounds on, so this exercise can really help each of our fingers get used to how the guitar feels, and how to make good sounding notes. Essentially, you just pick a position and play a note with each of your fingers starting on any fret with your 1st finger, and then just ascend one fret at a time using your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th finger, respectively. I always recommend trying this on every possible string, since each one can feel a little different. If you’re familiar with reading tab or standard notation, it looks a little like this:
Usually, the next step I put people through is connecting positions down the fretboard. Basically we ascend going one away until we run out of strings, and then move up a fret, and descend. I also usually make the descends reverse as well (4-3-2-1):
Often times, people stop there. I understand that this exercise can get a little boring, but if we think of mays to permutate it slightly, it can drastically improve some other techniques we may be working on. For example, here's an example of a little tweak you can do to this exercise if you happen to be working on string skippping:
Working on syncing up your right hand and left hand a little more? Here's a tough variation that a lot of people use. It's essentially the same idea, but every time we change fingers, we also change strings. I call them "staircases.":
It doesn't have to stop there though. One of the most common things I do with this exercise nowadays is mix up the pattern in various ways. Rather than 1-2-3-4 or 4-3-2-1, why not try 3-2-1-4, or 4-1-2-3? For my students, I often call these "tongue twisters for your fingers" since they can be hard to keep track of. Doing hard combinations like these can make normal fingerings a breeze.
Also, the patterns don't have to be 4-note groupings. A lot of times, if I'm working on the speed of a lick that may have a lot of 1-2-4 in it, I may just run these exercises with that 3 note combination. It really warms me up and makes putting that combination in context a lot easier.
Simple little ideas like this can make a world of difference in your playing. Try them out for yourself! If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to get a hold of me at the email below.
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Guitar Instructor, Co-Owner
Falls Music School